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Christmas songs in the spotlight

From Enya's dulcet tones to Faith Hill's powerhouse vocals to a surprisingly pretty singing saw, peace on earth arrives in tune.

By Stephen HumphriesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 2008

FAITH HILL: 'JOY TO THE WORLD' (Warner Bros., $18.98)

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O come, all ye Faith Hill fans and behold the queen of country's most crossover record yet. "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" gets a full-on Rodgers and Hammerstein treatment that suggests Hill would fare well on a Broadway stage. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" approximates an aria. And Hill even sounds like a rogue member of Celtic Woman on an Irish arrangement of "What Child Is This?" About the closest this album comes to a Nashville sound are the fiddle and banjo accents on "Away in a Manger." Mostly, it's an old-fashioned blockbuster production with big bands, orchestras, and more choirs than you could fit into the Mormon Tabernacle. Unfortunately, several big numbers are wildly overblown. But the album is mostly a triumph for the powerhouse vocalist, and she brings a graceful swing to numbers such as "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland."

ENYA: 'AND WINTER CAME...' (Reprise Records, $18.98)

It's a wonder that Enya has taken this long to release a Christmas album given that her voice is naturally suited to hymns and chorales. The "queen of serene" delivers a stunning rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," one of the two traditional carols here, and her voice is as delicate as a snowflake on "Stars and Midnight Blue," a new composition. Bonus points to Ireland's bestselling solo artist for coming up with original material rather than simply regurgitating Christmas standards. Kudos, too, on the album's first single, "Trains and Winter Rains," which is as hummable as "Orinoco Flow." On the downside, "And Winter Came..." sounds just like every other Enya song, right down to the dated keyboard sounds. And one wishes she'd tackle something unexpectedly upbeat like, say, "Jingle Bell Rock."

SHERYL CROW: 'HOME FOR CHRISTMAS' (Hallmark, $7.95 with purchase of three Hallmark cards)

Crow's Christmas album, available at Hallmark, is as warm as a yuletide log. Chalk that up to the bluesy guitars, lush strings, chipper horns, Booker T's organ, and the direction of Bill Bottrell, the producer of Crow's debut record and her recent "Detours." But, most of all, the cozy vibe radiates from Crow. The singer sounds supremely relaxed and her phrasing on the torch song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is exquisite. Crow does get to cut loose once or twice. The hooky "Merry Christmas, Baby," which floats as effortlessly as Santa's reindeer, is a fine belter. If Crow stumbles slightly on "O Holy Night," which sounds overly earnest, she rebounds on an original, piano-led composition, "There is a Star That Shines Tonight." Crow's own star burns brightest on this collection.